Crystal Talk
Text: Oliver HerwigPhotos: Florian Holzherr


Profil Allmann Sattler Wappner

Masters of the succinct.
Between civil construction and sentence construction: The Munich studio Allmann Sattler Wappner

Markus Allmann sits down at the white conference table. He is big and is wearing jeans and a white polo-neck sweater. "Would you care for some coffee?" the assistant asks. No thank-you, I’d prefer a glass of water. Then he crosses his legs and leans right back. Allmann starts up. There is this project in Kuwait, he explains, quite a challenge. Unfortunately he can’t say much about it. Not yet anyway. Allmann operates like a turbo-charge, he doesn’t need to get warmed up; he just comes out with things that are ready for print. Is he tempted by the Persian Gulf or China, the land of unlimited opportunities? Allmann says no. And yet: "There are no restrictions", he says, and in that there is a certain potential. "You just have to think of Koolhaas’ CCTV headquarters in Beijing, you couldn’t have begun to imagine that in Europe." Koolhaas is something of a benchmark for the three Munich architects, an orbiting station in the architectural universe, to which they are constantly striving. A smile crosses Allmann’s face. Whenever they had competed against OMA they had won. A sense of pride is discernible, but it falls short of arrogance. Koolhaas probably hadn’t been giving the project his full concentration, Allmann admits. The project he can’t talk about, that is. Talking, however, that becomes clear is a facet of modern architecture, which has to switch skillfully between civil construction and sentence construction if it is to be successful. Successful like the Munich studio Allmann Sattler Wappner.

Allmann points to the model in the middle of the table. The Haus der Gegenwart (present day house) building was built in line with strict stipulations that were laid down by SZ-Magazin, a supplement in the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. There was a competition for the best concepts for a style of living for the future: four people, 500 square meters surface area, 200 for the house and - 250,000 building costs. The model has seen better days, on the side the aluminum cladding is buckling, and the upper storey wobbles. Out in the Riem suburb of Munich there is an original-size example, an experimental house with more ideas crammed into it than several other comparable projects. The bedrooms are downstairs, surrounded by the greenery of the maze-like garden, whereas the dining and communal rooms are all on the first floor. That is the strength of the Munich architects: They turn everything upside down and search for solutions for so long before finally switching on the CAD computer, getting out their rulers and the architects’ official fee schedule. If architecture really does represent a solution for how space and society best discover each other, then this Munich studio really is the right think tank.

The Allmann Sattler studio has existed for 19 years. In 1993 Ludwig Wappner completed the Markus Allmann and Amandus Sattler team. All three studied at the Technical University in Munich and are now in their late 40s.They shot to fame overnight with the school center in Flöha in the mid-1990s. In 1997, after several "laudatory distinctions" the ensemble won the German Architecture Prize. Which was when things really took off. They won competition after competition, the Allmann Sattler Wappner engine room was operating flat out. And yet did not keep churning out the same thing. Though they do indeed work with typologies until the potential in a solution has been exhausted, their on-site work is very specific. In 1996 the competition for the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Neuhausen district of Munich followed, just a few minutes on foot from the office, and once again they came up with a prototype, the 21st century church, which in terms of the liturgical concept was conservative, but in terms of structure avant-garde. Small wonder, then, that the parish priest spoke of a racing car in terms of churches. A place of worship as a mobile institution, an absolutely absurdly enticing idea. An experiment with facades, envelopes and the right light.

Last year, Allmann Sattler Wappner moved out of their old offices, a fox’s den of box rooms, berths and meeting rooms in the rear building, and into an old factory in Nymphenburger Strasse that they had converted themselves. There is now ample space on two floors for the architects to spread themselves out more than originally planned, because the studio has undergone a slimming-down process. Nowadays they operate like an agency, says Allmann, flexibly geared to current requirements. Too many competitions that were won but never constructed are a burden. Some 90 percent of their works stem from open tenders they won.

And some contacts took their time coming. Some models have been collecting dust for years now, First Prizes such as the Mobile Evolution Center in Bremen in 2003, and for the Loewe AG administration building in Kronach in October 2002. Computer animations reveal how the buildings unfold, the virtual camera circles what one day will be steel, glass and concrete. And yet, Allmann Sattler Wappner is back, with new projects and a new structure. Undeterred, as voluntary Chairman of the State Competition Committee Ludwig Wappner champions more open tenders for public building projects.

There has to be competition. It was what made them. Something new always means questioning what has gone before. A fellow architect once criticized their buildings as having no style. "That is one of the nicest things that has ever been said about our buildings", replied Allmann. For Allmann Sattler Wappner building is not an automatism, it has a lot to do with self-doubt, which leads to innovation. That takes time and effort. Visitors also experience it to a minor degree. Anyone looking for them on the Internet will not come across a fashionable abbreviation such as ASW, you have to enter everything in full: It has nothing to do with old-fashioned class consciousness, it’s stylish. A characteristic signature the three designers otherwise so enjoy denying.